1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Runeberg, Johan Ludvig

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RUNEBERG, JOHAN LUDVIG (1804-1877), Swedish poet, son of a sea-captain, was born at Jakobstad, in Finland, on the 5th of February 1804. He was brought up by an uncle at Uleåborg, and entered the university of Åbo in the autumn term of 1822. In 1823 he broke off his studies to act as tutor in two quiet Finnish villages, Saarijärvi and Ruovesi, where he gained a thorough knowledge of the popular life and poetry, and on his return to Åbo he began to contribute verses to the local newspapers. In the spring of 1827 he received the degree of doctor of philosophy. The university had been removed after the great fire of 1827 to Helsingfors, where Runeberg became, in 1830, amanuensis to the council of the university. In the same year he published at Helsingfors his first volume of Dikter (Poems), and a collection of Serbiska folksånger (Servian folk songs) translated into Swedish. In 1831 his verse romance of Finnish life, Grafven i Perrho (The Grave in Perrho), received the small gold medal of the Swedish Academy, and the poet married Fredrika Charlotta Tengström, daughter of the archbishop of Finland. In the same year he was appointed university lecturer on Roman literature. In 1832 he published his beautiful little idyll, Elgskyttarne (The Elk-Hunters); and in 1833 a second collection of lyrical poems. He founded in 1832 the Helsingfors Morgonblad, a paper which dealt chiefly with aesthetic and literary questions, and exercised great influence both in Sweden and Finland. In it appeared many of his own poems and tales. His comedy, Friaren från Landet (The Country Lover, 1834), was not a success, but in 1836 he published Hanna, a charming idyll of Finnish country life, written in hexameters. In 1837 Runeberg accepted the chair of Latin at Borgå College, and resided in that little town for the rest of his life.

He was now recognized in his remote Finland retirement as second only to Tegnér among the poets of Sweden. In 1841 he published Nadeschda, a romance of modern Russian life, and Julqvällen (Christmas Eve), another idyll of Finnish life. The third volume of his Dikter bears the date 1843, and the noble cycle of unrhymed verse romances called Kung Fjalor, the setting of which is taken from old Scandinavian legend, was published in 1844. Finally, in 1848, he achieved a great popular success by his splendid series of poems on the war of independence in 1808, when Swedes and Finns fought side by side. The series bears the name of Fänrik Ståls Sägner (Ensign Steel's Stories); a second series appeared in 1860. From 1847 to 1850 the poet was rector of Borgå College, a post which he resigned to take the only journey out of Finland which he ever accomplished, a visit to Sweden in 1851. In 1854 he collected his prose essays into a volume entitled Smärre Berättelser. In the same year he was made president of a committee for the preparation of a national Psalter, which issued, in 1857, a psalm-book largely contributed by Runeberg for public use. He once more attempted comedy in his Kan ej (Can't) in 1862, and tragedy, with infinitely more success, in his stately Kungarne på Salamis (The Kings at Salamis) in 1863. Runeberg died at Borgå on the 6th of May 1877. His writings were collected by C. R. Nyblom in six volumes in 1870, and his posthumous writings in three volumes (1878-79).

The poems of Runeberg show the influence of the Greeks and of Goethe upon his mind; but he possesses a great originality. It is hardly possible to over-estimate the value of his patriotic poems as a link between the Swedish and Finnish nations. He has remained one of the most popular Swedish poets, although his whole life was spent in Finland.

An account of his life and works by C. R. Nyblom is prefixed to the Samlade Skrifter of 1870. For a minute criticism of Runeberg's principal poems, with translations, see Gosse's Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe (1879). A selection of his lyrical pieces was published in an English translation by Messrs Magnusson & Palmer in 1878. There are also monographs on Runeberg by Dietrichson and Rancken (Stockholm, 1864), by Cygnäus (Helsingfors, 1873), by Ljunggren (Lund, 1882-83), and Peschier (Stuttgart, 1881).